CEBU -- June Mar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Quinton Brian Heruela and Eliud Poligrates are just some of the basketball players who made it to the big leagues after joining the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi).

Cesafi, which replaced the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association (CAAA) in 2000, is now composed of 10 schools, colleges, and universities in Cebu, Philippines.

Since then, the basketball tournament has produced top players like Ramon Fernandez of the University of San Carlos, Abet Guidaben, Jojo Lastimosa, Zaldy Realubit, Bernie Fabiosa and Dondon Ampalayo of the University of San Jose-Recoletos, Dondon Hontiveros and Biboy Ravenes of the University of Cebu, Boy Cabahug, Al Solis Manny Paner, and JR Quiñahan of the University of the Visayas.

Number of Cesafi basketball championships by school
Number of Cesafi basketball championships by school. (Infographic by Daryl D. Anunciado)

Hontiveros shared with Sun.Star online his experience as a Cesafi player.

"It was CAAA back then, my 1st experience as a high school player from Don Bosco was unforgettable. I was making my outside shots on my very 1st game and that built my confidence the whole tournament. I scored 37 pts. in one of the games and I wasn't even the best player in our team. There I experience the saying 'Hard Work Pays Off', because the summer before that tournament, my teammates and I really worked hard to get better. We did trainings we haven't done before and there I saw how far I had to work to get to the level of our best player. And that helped my transition to college basketball where I had to compete with more experienced and stronger players," he said.

When asked why local players opt to leave local leagues and accept bigger breaks for national competition, he said: "Every player's dream is to make it big, the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) and the national team. And players try their luck in national competition for exposure and the experience of competition against the best in the country."

League commissioner Felix Tiukinhoy Jr. said Cesafi's goal has always been focusing on the developmental skills of the students in different schools by providing a venue for sports, including basketball, academic and cultural activities.

"If you're a local player, you can finish college while you are an athlete. For some schools, a local player is provided with allowance. What is important is one finishes school, without paying for tuition fee," he said.

He added that foreign players get much benefit like free board and lodging, allowance, and a scholarship.

The University of San Carlos Warriors' Scoty Ntumba said they are practicing hard to defend their title.

He said he is also aware that last year's most valuable player was Shooster Olago, also a foreign player of USC.

"Shooster is my friend also. I want also to be an MVP and win also in championship in Cesafi, but what I can do now is just practice hard, respect the coach, and go to school also," he said.

Ntumba left Congo, Central Africa and arrived in Cebu in 2014 and he is taking up Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in USC as part of his scholarship.

"I have already experienced how to talk with Filipinos, how to talk with the coach," he said.

When asked what he plans to do to local players being pirated or given big breaks in the national scene, the league commissioner said: "We cannot (force them to stay). That's the challenge that we're currently facing all the time, because the schools do not pay much allowance, not like in Manila that there is an alumni association that really takes care of the players."

Cesafi rules: Then and now

Tiukinhoy said Cesafi teams are now competitive with the Manila teams, as far as talents are concerned.

"That is why daghan mokuha og mga talents nato dinhi (That is why there are many who are interested in getting talents here in Cebu), because our talented players, they improved a lot," he said.

Cesafi General Ground Rules for 2016-2017 season by Sun.Star Philippine news on Scribd

"Comparing it before, the records of the players were not properly in order, ang uban ana mga tiguwang na, more than the age limit (other players were already beyond age limit). Now we are able to streamline that all players must have their NSO birth certificates presented to the commission to prove that they are within the age limit," he added.

Tiukinhoy said in the early years of Cesafi, the players only enroll themselves, but won't study. Now, most schools require their players to study and attend classes.

Players who were involved in a brawl were only suspended, but now, they are required to pay a fine of P5,000, which goes to Cesafi proceeds, and do a community service for four hours.

The problem is that the school refuses to pay for the player.

Expectations

This year's Cesafi will also be an uphill battle for some of the member schools that don't have foreign players, according to Tiukinhoy.

"We feel that the different teams will be very competitive. There are only three schools (UV, SWU, USC) with foreign players, while the other four schools don't have," he said.

To encourage more audience this year, Tiukinhoy said the upper box will be offered free to the students who are under the Cesafi-member schools during the preliminary games.

Students will have to present their IDs.

He is also encouraging the schools to send their P.E. students to the Cebu Coliseum.

Sun.Star Publishing Inc. partners with Cesafi

Sun.Star Publishing Incorporated will cover live via either video streaming or live blogging activities such as the opening on August 6, 2016 and regular games for college and high school teams.

CLICK HERE to view the live streaming.

(With Ojharra Catherine Manlosa/Sunnex)